Anything Goes at New Wimbledon
There’s something to be said for judging a musical on its own terms. Wicked doesn’t necessarily want to be a heart-wrenching portrayal of otherness and nor should it, while Les Misérables isn’t exactly a barrel of laughs, but that should hardly be a mark against it. In the case of Anything Goes, the fairytale plot, larger-than-life characters, ridiculous gags and exuberant dance numbers create a magnificent escape, but the superficial story is ultimately a little hollow.
Set aboard a cruise liner – The SS American – on its voyage to England, the ensemble cast perform a range of roles including a minister, a billionaire, a nightclub singer and more sailors than you could shake a stick at. Stage time is split fairly evenly between the dozen or so characters, which helps with the fact that none of them are particularly well fleshed out.
The two biggest roles are those of Reno Sweeney, singer extraordinaire, and Billy Crocker, a young upstart on Wall Street just fitted for his first Brooks Brothers suit. In typical musical fashion, Sweeney is in love with Crocker, while Crocker longs for another passenger already betrothed to a traditional Brit. From here, the plot goes in some strange directions – but it’s never too challenging to follow.
Sweeney, played by the excellent Debbie Kurup, holds the whole thing together brilliantly. Not only is Sweeney the only character with any emotional depth, but Kurup leads the most engaging dance performances, holding her own in a boat full of crooners and practised songstresses. She has by far the most comedic flair, all while maintaining a flawless New York accent and without ever breaking a sweat.
Big choreographed dance numbers do a great job of harnessing the kind of glee that only a musical like Anything Goes can produce. Performed by a crowd of well-trained dancers – and Hugh Sachs – and aided by a tight brass band, they’re easy to lose yourself in, and it’s even easier to turn off your brain completely.
That’s the trouble with Anything Goes. Even if every one of the memorable songs are well done as they are here, and even if every gag hits, which again they mostly do, there’s still too little to think about. The joy provoked by Anything Goes is undeniable, but ultimately it’s all too fleeting.
Joe Manners Lewis
Anything Goes is on at New Wimbledon Theatre until 7th February 2015, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch the the trailer for Anything Goes here: